The Other Heart Benefit of Cholesterol Drugs

Cholesterol lowering statins promote plaque regression as well

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Joseph V. Madia, MD

(RxWiki News) Cholesterol-lowering statin drugs may have an added benefit. They also appear to break down plaque in arteries, a major contributor to blood vessel blockages that can lead to a heart attack or stroke. Now, doctors know why.

The added heart disease protection happens when statins reduce plaque build up by activating cells that are present in the plaque.

"Eat less saturated fats to keep your cholesterol in check."

Dr. Edward Fisher, study co-author, from the Leon H. Charney Professor of Cardiovascular Medicine and director of the Marc and Ruti Bell Vascular Biology Program at New York University Langone Medical Center, said the new research demonstrates that statins actually promote the regression of plaque and cholesterol build up by altering expression of a specific cell surface receptor within plaque cells.

This helps dissolve the plaque by ridding coronary artery disease-causing cells from the plaque lining the arteries.

During the study researchers used a mouse model to show that statins activate the cell surface protein receptor C-C chemokine receptor type 7 (CCR7). When this happened a cell-signaling pathway forced out white blood cells within the tissue.

Investigators also demonstrated that those white blood cells are only permitted to leave the plaque when CCR7 is expressed, making the reduction in plaque dependent upon this gene expression.

The statin drugs appeared to enhance CCR7, further aiding in the removal of the white blood cells from within the plaque.

"Our experimental findings indicate that statins, in addition to lowering LDL cholesterol, have clinical benefits of accelerating plaque regression by a newly discovered mechanism," said Michael Garabedian, a co-author and professor in the department of microbiology and urology at NYU Langone Medical Center.

"It's possible that these drugs could possibly be more beneficial to a wider population of patients, potentially reducing the overall lifetime burden of plaque and the prevention of atherosclerosis."

The study, which was funded by the National Institutes of Health, Astra Zeneca and Pfizer, was recently published in journal PLoS One.

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Review Date: 
December 14, 2011
Last Updated:
December 18, 2011